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Redefining Gentleman

Posted by Alex W.C. on 12:04 PM
Some days I think I rant too much about the current perception of women’s sports. I ponder backing off and trying to appreciate the positive changes that women’s sports has experienced over the past few years or so. Then I am oh so quickly reminded when things like this happen.

Pardon me while I take a slight departure from the typical WNBA content I write about.

Joel Northrop, a high school wrestler in Iowa, was recently celebrated as a gentleman.

Why you ask?

In the Iowa state wrestling championships, Joel Northrop, who was favored to grab the title, forfeited a match. His opponent in that match was a girl. Northrop then released this statement:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy…. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," said Northrup. "As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."

In doing so, many, including several sports journalists, hailed him as a gentleman who has the utmost respect for women.

I would disagree.

The opponent? Cassy Herkelman, a freshman, who had a 21-13 record for the season, not to mention 8 pins – all against other boys. Conversely, Northrop went 35-4 , and was ranked fifth in entire state of Iowa. The question that drives through my mind is why would someone throw their chances of winning a state title, after obviously working so hard to earn a spot in the championships?

The last sentence where he says, “It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation…” Why does this have to be about him? Am I supposed to think that because an opponent, a girl, who worked hard and earned this opportunity, took away his opportunity to compete? He’s the one who made the decision, no one forced him to.

That leads me to his reasoning behind his decision; as he said, it was his faith. While I am not a religious man myself, I have never been down on someone making choices because of their faith. We live in a country where we are guaranteed freedom of religion, and every citizen in this country has that right, and in doing so, the right to make decisions in their lives based on their faith.

But I question him falling back on his faith. I question it because it really does not make sense for him to say so. Here is a young man, and a talented athlete. Athletic achievements just do not happen, they require work and determination. I doubt seriously that he was able to post the record he did without a tremendous amount of said determination and perseverance. To take all that and just give it up?

It doesn’t make sense.

Maybe it is because, as I said before, I am not a religious man myself. Maybe someone with strong convictions of their faith would be willing to make a huge sacrifice, rather than sacrifice their values. Maybe this is something I am unaware of because I come from a non-faith based upbringing.

But when he stated that wresting is a “combat sport” and can become “violent at times”, his faith does not address this? Violence is ok some of the time, and other times it is not? It seems too inconsistent to me.

My perspective I can guarantee is not a popular one, and one that many will disagree with. Yes, call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but I think it goes deeper than faith. It comes down to fear. Not fear of losing, but fear of losing…to a girl.

It didn’t quite come to me at first; but then I saw another example of this, a subtle example, but it was there.

Watching the NBA All-Star celebrity game recently, I saw as legendary NBA player Scottie Pippen faced off against WNBA champion Swin Cash. I shouldn’t even say “faced off” because there was no effort to support this on the part of Scottie Pippen. Swin was driving to the hoop, and Pippen was standing under the basket as she did. (See you tube video, starting at the 1:20 mark)



And that was all he was doing, just standing there. He did absolutely nothing to try to do what he was supposed to, which was to defend the basket. Even the commentators made a remark about how he made absolutely no effort.

That’s when it hit me. How could a forfeited wrestling match and lacking of effort by an NBA great could show the exact same thing? These male athletes would rather do nothing, than risk the chance at experiencing being shown up, or defeated, at the hands of a female athlete.

There, I said it.

This fear is what I believe drives the many examples of negativity that I’ve seen directed at women’s sports. It begins at the public school level when a coach refers to his players at “ladies” or “girls” when he wants to motivate them. Young boys are conditioned to think that association to anything female makes them weaker and less skilled. After years of this kind of conditioning, to even think that a girl could defeat them at their own game must be quite frightening. Just the thought that female athletes could do it just as good or better than men evokes not only negativity toward female athletes, but toward females in general.

CBS sports columnist Gregg Doyel commented, “But if a boy doesn't want to wrestle a girl, he has that right. It doesn't make him a chauvinist or a coward. It makes him a gentleman.”

Once again, the story isn’t focused on the girl who lost the opportunity to showcase her wresting skills, but the boy who threw in the towel. The boy is the hero and is celebrated for standing up for what he believes in.

The Girl? Maybe she’ll have better luck next time.

Unfortunately for Cassy Herkelman, there will be no next time. Cassy will never have freshman year in high school to repeat. Many moments in an athlete’s career come once in a lifetime. Oh sure, she'll have three more years in high school. This year however, for Cassie, is gone. And as it is, Northrop is the one who's celebrated.

It seems that many respected his choice, but no one respected Cassy’s. When Cassy became involved in wresting, she made a choice too. That choice was to physically engage boys in a very aggressive contact sport, and in doing so, accept any of the physical consequences that may come about. In other words, she took the bangs and bruises, and chose to keep going. This is clearly supported by the number of victories in her record and her perseverance to continue.

It comes down to this. Instances like this play out the same way most of the time. It’s not about the female athlete who had to work twice as hard to gain their place in a male dominated sport; it’s about the male athlete who was put in an awkward position. It’s not about the female athlete who made the decision to accept the physicality of their sport; it’s about the male athlete who didn’t want to “hurt” anyone. This focus makes the male athlete the martyr or the victim, and only creates a bigger battle for female athletes in the future.

It’s a double standard, its insecurity, its fear. What is cheaply sold by many as respect, is a smoke screen to cover up the true feelings male athletes have that they don’t want to admit to.

I had a conversation a while back with a guy who had been invited a few times to be a part of a scrimmage team and play against the Phoenix Mercury. (For those of you who don’t know, that’s a professional women’s basketball team.) He shared with me that in the beginning, he had the same feelings, as not wanting to get physical with the players, believing it would somehow be inappropriate. Those feelings quickly changed however, while on offense, he set a screen for one Diana Taurasi. He promptly received a hard elbow to the gut as Taurasi fought against the offense. He then explained how it was evident to him that Taurasi chose to get physical, and by doing do, inviting those to get physical in return.

So he did, and amazingly, no one got hurt. To me, that is the truest example of what respecting female athletes should be.

He is the one who is a gentleman.

UPDATE: Check out Sarah Spain's blog post over at ESPN W

References:

Heart of matter: No one to blame in Iowa wrestler flap


Wrestler defaults at Iowa prep tourney rather than face girl


For first time, Iowa girl wins a state wrestling match by forfeit


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In Her Own Words

Posted by Alex W.C. on 10:33 PM
With the suspension lifted on Diana Taurasi, there are many things that could be said. However, I thought it might be better if Diana said it herself. Here are some of the quotes from Taurasi on this experience:

(Click on the "As reported by..." links for read the full story)


On how she felt when she first heard the news:

"I played in a game on November 12 and I got drug tested after the game, like I have at least 50 times in the last eight years easily," Taurasi said. "And then after about two weeks...l had the letter of the positive test from the doping association and that's when I was feeling a state of shock. I was really numb from what the paper said because I knew I'd never taken it."

As reported by BuiltByDays, Swish Appeal.

On how she feels now:

"I definitely have the greatest sigh of relief. Yesterday and today, I finally feel like I can start putting it behind me. I do feel vindicated. I feel like the facts came out with all the information on the table," Taurasi said.

On how people reacted:

"There were two sides. There were people judging me at the drop of a dime but then there was the other side where the fans were great, my family, my friends, people who've known me for a long time and their unwavering support. It was two fold."

As reported by Seth Pollack, SB Nation, AZ

On the lab results being leaked:

"I feel like the facts came out, and it's like I said from day one: It's a road I never crossed," she said in a teleconference Thursday. "The whole situation was handled poorly -- from information leaking early to due process not being held the right way. The lab and all the things that we were wary of from the beginning were determining factors."

As reported by Mechelle Voepel, ESPN


On playing overseas again:

"I’m going to take a very close look at the next club team I play with because I definitely intend to go back to Europe because that is my profession. I play basketball, and it’s great competition. But I’m not going to put my career at risk any more."

As reported by Jeff Metcalfe, AZCentral.com

On her thoughts during the experience:

"I had those thoughts, You know, what if I don't get justice? What if I can't play in the Olympics or in the WNBA? What if I'm out of the sport that I worked so hard at and love so much?"

"People's first judgments were very negative, but at the same time the response I've received from so many makes me think people do care. This is a serious topic."

As reported by John Altavilla, Hartford Courant.

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Same Ol' Same Ol'

Posted by Alex W.C. on 11:14 AM
If the truth be said, any good boys high school team could beat a woman's basketball team. Watching woman's basketball is like watching midget wrestling. No one but dikes and divorced woman who hate men go to WNBA games.

Anonymity. It is quite an empowering thing.

I say this because anonymity is what allows people to make as well as allowing me to read wonderful comments, like the one above. It is really easy to make sweeping, generalized, ignorant, stereotype driven, spiteful, and downright rude comments such as these when you don't have to say it to someone's face. However, after careful review of the article it was related to, I can see why it attracted such comments.

This comment came on the heels of an article in the Arizona Republic with regards to National Women in Sports Day. At first glance, you would think that an event such as this getting mainstream media attention would be a good thing. Take a closer look, and you will see, even effort to give exposure to a celebration of womens achievements in sports, it is still laced with contempt for having to do so.

Let's begin at the top - the headline:

National Girls and Women in Sports Day: Who knew?

Who knew indeed. It seems that columnist Scott Bordow is having quite a revelation; the fact that people can actually have appreciation for girls and women in sports, and yes, have the desire to want to celebrate it.

I will give credit to Mr. Bordow, as he does start the article out with a great deal of statistics to indicate positive progress for women in sports. The effort is there, and for the most part, feels real.

Which makes me wonder why he would immediately follow with this statement:

Yet there remains the need - or desire - for a national day to honor female athletes. Meanwhile, we don't celebrate Boys and Men in Sports Day.

Whether that's insecurity or inequality, you decide.


Hmm, so I should decide? It seems to me that Mr. Bordow has already done so.

For the record, we do celebrate Men in Sports day. On any given day, one can one can log on to the front page of any major sports news website; you'll see a celebration and adoration of men in several sports, and the other men who write about them. What more could you ask for?

I remember a celebration of boys in sports day, the same year the Phoenix Mercury claimed their first championship title in 2007. As the first professional basketball team in AZ to bring home a national title, you'd think they would make the front page, or at least the front page of the local sports section. Nope.

So who did make the front page of the sports section you ask? A little league boys baseball team, from Chandler AZ, that competed in the little league world series. There's your celebration of boys in sports day. Yup, looks pretty equal to me.

But he does have a point; it is so unfair Girls and Women in Sports get their own special day, one single day, and Boys and Men appear not to. Forgive me Mr. Bordow if I don't shed a tear.

If you didn't sense the sarcasm in that last statement, prepare yourself. I'm just getting started.

Mr. Bordow doesn't stop there, and why would he? He's already established his platform of the-men-don't-so-why-should-the-women mentality when it comes to gender and sports. At this point, I am curious as to why, just a few paragraphs before, did he comment about the establishment of title IX, and how it has had a positive impact on high school girls and their involvement on sports teams? Prior to title IX, men and boys were the only ones celebrated in sports quite often on a daily basis.

I know I've made that point, but I still can't wrap my head around it. Anyway, I digress.

Again, giving credit where credit is due, Mr. Bordow does make another accurate observation, one with which I agree:

It's no surprise that Wednesday's 25-year anniversary has generated so little attention. For one thing, it's the same day as college football's national signing day. That's not the smartest scheduling.

Indeed.

However, it is followed by a statement like this:

Furthermore, isn't it the responsibility of the teams or leagues to earn media attention?


He gives the example of the UCONN women's basketball program, and because of their championship status, that they receive a great deal of press. While this is true, and that UCONN does so because it has had a history of amazingly talented teams, it is not the only womens basketball program out there that is worthy of media attention. In this situation, I'd like to know exactly what a womens team needs to do to "earn" this attention. I have yet to see womens basketball or womens sports in general give any reason why the media should not give them any attention.

Bridget Pettis comments on why this is:

"The media is deciding what's important," Pettis said. "I think they decide it's not as important as men's sports. You watch ESPN, and you'll see billiards more than you will see women's basketball. I think we deserve just as much exposure and let the public decide for themselves."

Agreed. Networks have the right to choose what they want to air, and what they feel is important. How can something ever be popular if you never show it?

In short, this article is nothing new. It represents the begrudging efforts and short sided perspectives that result in reporting events with regards to women and sports. There really isn't that much to say that has already been said.

Simply, it boils down to two words for me, equal and fair. Often these words are used interchangeably, but they are quite different with regards to the message they bring.

Question:

Would it be equal to have a Boys and Men in sports day just like there is a Girls and Women in sports day? Yes, it would. In ever sense of the word, both groups would get equal representation for that one day.

Would it be fair ? I would argue, no. As I stated, men get a majority of the sports media attention in this country, and usually have no problem continually doing so. Events like the Super Bowl are a celebration of masculine representation in sports, a luxury that women in sports do not often get.

And as long as there are people like Scott Bordow writing articles like this, I doubt the attention that women in sports will receive will be anything that resembles fair.

Bridget Pettis made this rather poignant comment:

"It will be great when we don't have to recognize it," with regards to women in sports.

How true. If only this columnist could emulate the wisdom of those he interviews. I believe that would be quite fair.

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